West Seattle Elementary: Poetry and Song 2019-20

In the fall and winter of 2019-20, we were pleased to complete our first year working with West Seattle Elementary School fifth graders to create poetry and songs. This web page and our audio recordings and anthology of the student’s poems are the culmination of this project. Taylor Boccaccio and Kaitlin Hanger’s students in the Coho and Chinook classrooms worked with Jack Straw’s artist team to write, perform, and record their own poetry and songs.

First, poet Vicky Edmonds visited the students and helped them write their poems. Then musicians J.R. Rhodes and Levi Fuller wrote songs inspired by the poems. J.R. and Levi visited the students in the classroom to teach them the songs, which they then practiced in school. Jack Straw’s vocal coaches also visited the classroom to help the students read their poems out loud.

As the culmination of the project, the students visited Jack Straw’s studios. They recorded their individual poems with the help of vocal coaches Sunam Ellis, Katya Landau, and Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, and audio engineers Daniel Guenther, Joel Maddox, and Ayesha Ubayatilaka. Listen to the recorded poems below:

After recording their poems, the students played and sang their songs as a group with J.R. – joined by musicians Marco de Carvalho and Thione Diop – and Levi. Listen below to both of the songs, and watch the music video to see them perform.


On February 6th, 2020, Coho and Chinook students performed their songs with J.R. and Levi for fellow students, families, and members of the Southwest Seattle community as part of the first-ever Seattle Public Schools Southwest Regional Arts Festival at Chief Sealth High School.

West Seattle Elementary Poetry and Song : Guiding the Stars was produced by West Seattle Elementary School students and Jack Straw Cultural Center with the generous support of The Creative Advantage, the Washington State Arts Commission, Jubilation Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, and individual donors.

The Jack Straw artist team included writer Vicky Edmonds; vocal coaches Sunam Ellis, Katya Landau, and Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako; audio engineers Daniel Guenther, Joel Maddox, and Ayesha Ubayatilaka; musicians Levi Fuller and J.R. Rhodes; video producer Lisa Waagd; education programs associate Alyssa Keene; designer Levi Fuller; and Executive Director Joan Rabinowitz. West Seattle Elementary students Lydia Abebe and Brigham Stowell created the cover art.

Special thanks to the students of Coho and Chinook classrooms at West Seattle Elementary and West Seattle Elementary staff. We especially want to thank 5th grade teachers Taylor Boccaccio and Kaitlin Hanger, ELL teacher Anna Quinn-Shea, principal Pam Conyers, assistant principal Sahnica Washington, administrative secretary Shanika Russell, visual arts teacher and art team leader Amber Sermeño, and music teacher Catey Mayhew, who all helped make this project possible.


Portrait of Vicky Edmonds, by Katie Jennings

Vicky Edmonds

Vicky Edmonds is a poet and a teacher who uses the written and spoken word to bring the deepest and most authentic parts of ourselves to the page into the…

JR Rhodes

J.R. Rhodes

Singer-songwriter J.R. Rhodes believes that music heals and that love is real. From her first open-mic performances at the O.K. Hotel, Seattle, to her latest album…

Portrait of Sunam Ellis

Sunam Ellis

Sunam Ellis is an actor, director, and teaching artist based out of Seattle. Her training began with her studies at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, and after receiving her…